Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sermon 5: Up to our necks in it

Turn and face the strange
Don't tell them to grow up and out of it
Turn and face the strange
Where's your shame?
You've left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can't trace time

- "Changes," by David Bowie

I was glad to know when some one wrote me, that some people here had begun to receive the sacrament in both kinds. You should have allowed it to remain thus and not forced it into a law. But now you go at it pell mell, and headlong force everyone to it. Dear friends, you will not succeed in that way. For if you desire to be regarded as better Christians than others just because you take the sacrament into your hands and also receive it in both kinds, you are bad Christians as far as I am concerned. In this way even a sow could be a Christian, for she has a big enough snout to receive the sacrament outwardly. We must deal soberly with such high things. Dear friends, this dare be no mockery, and if you are going to follow me, stop it. If you are not going to follow me, however, then no one need drive me away from you -- I will leave you unasked, and I shall regret that I ever preached so much as one sermon in this place. The other things could be passed by, but this cannot be overlooked; for you have gone so far that people are saying: At Wittenberg there are very good Christians, for they take the sacrament in their hands and grasp the cup, and then they go to their brandy and swill themselves full. So the weak and well-meaning people, who would come to us if they had received as much instruction as we have, are driven away.'
- Fifth Invocavit Sermon
Sermon five marked a turning point in Martin Luther's messages to his parishioners in Wittenberg. In it he began talking specifically to them about one of the innovations in the mass that had been so controversial -- the way the congregants received communion. The Eucharist was the highest sacred rite in the Church's worship and therefore any changes in the way it was observed was of no little concern. For the first time, Luther showed the limits of his patience, rebuking the people for their hasty embrace of new ways, flaunting their liberty in Christ, and failing to consider the consequences for themselves and their neighbors.
...Luther "lets it all out" in this sermon. He blasts supposed scriptural support (via the devil); he charges his audience with their greatest offense; he claims the most serious harm done. And all along the problems could have been avoided, he avers, had the Wittenbergers used the alternative -- preaching. Luther's humiliating insults are stronger in this sermon -- "even a sow" -- than in the First Sermon ("an ass can almost intone"). His claims of being hurt -- his thought of leaving and his feelings of regret -- are more focused. Luther emotionally exhausts himself and his audience in this sermon. 
- Leroux, Luther's Rhetoric, p. 107
Here is an outline of how Luther approached the congregation's embrace of the innovations that Karlstadt and others had introduced in the fifth Invocavit sermon:
  • "Let us now consider how we must observe the blessed sacrament."
    • Foolish laws that Luther had preached against
    • The people's foolish belief that they must handle the sacrament
    • Why this was foolish: they had no firm Scriptural ground, they caused offense
    • Summary: "Therefore no new practices should be introduced, unless the gospel has first been thoroughly preached and understood."
  • "Now let us speak of the two kinds" (receiving both the bread and the wine).
    • We should receive both kinds, but this must not be made compulsory.
    • When made compulsory it becomes an outward work and hypocrisy for many.
    • When the Word is preached and people come to understand first, then it comes from their hearts.
    • The outward act of taking the sacrament properly does not make us good Christians.
  • Concluding rebuke: 
  • "But if there is any one who is so smart that he must touch the sacrament with his hands, let him have it brought home to his house and there let him handle it to his heart's content. But in public let him abstain, since that will bring him no harm and the offense will be avoided which is caused to our brothers, sisters, and neighbors, who are now so angry with us that they are ready to kill us. I may say that of all my enemies who have opposed me up to this time none have brought me so much grief as you."

  • Pastor = protector. One hears in Luther his frustration that he had not been present to help the church deal with the past year's troubles. He took seriously his role as shepherd, guide, and protector and was clearly upset that others had led his flock into dangerous territory. And although rebuke is a tricky matter, a tool to be used only by a skilled craftsperson with great care, Luther had surely earned credibility, having just emerged from a year in hiding and with his life still under a death sentence! By their actions, the Wittenbergers had played right into the devil's hands, confirming the worst fears of the enemies of reformation, and threatening the entire cause. This was not a petty personal tantrum. This was a measured reprimand from a military officer to troops that had endangered the mission and their fellow soldiers. Now that the pastor was back, he would do his best to make sure the campaign was waged more effectively by all concerned. 
  • Promote quiet Christianity. Our world today is so loud and everyone is trying to shout louder and do more spectacular things to attract attention. The Church can get caught up in this. But Luther rebukes the people for thinking they will show they are good Christians by making a big show of their liberty: "No, my dear friends, the kingdom of God does not consist in outward things, which can be touched or perceived, but in faith." Christ's parables of the mustard seed, the yeast, and the seed that falls into the ground and dies suggest that Luther was right. As a pastor I must not presume that the effectiveness of my ministry or our church lies in outward measures of "success" or "growth." "Quietly and soberly [the Word] does its work," said Luther. The same God who hid himself in a cradle, on the dusty roads of Palestine, and on a criminal's cross hides himself in the quiet, unobtrusive acts of faith and love that ordinary people do.

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